One of the earliest Christian writers after the New Testament era was Clement of Alexandria, who lived from about 150 to 210 AD. While researching the concept of the “yoke of Christ” in Matthew 11:28-30, I noted that Clement makes a connection between the yoke and rites of initiation and other mysteries aimed at bringing us into the presence of God and becoming more like him.
Speaking to those caught up in pagan Greek mysteries, Clement of Alexandria in his Exhortations to the Heathen, a document believed to have been written around 195 AD), speaks of true mysteries that should replace heathen rites. He refers to the sacred rites, “expounding them after [the] fashion” of the Greeks, describing the Christian mysteries as “dramas of the truth” with a sober choral
dance.(Hugh Nibley in “The
Early Christian Prayer Circle” has noted the parallel between the Greek chorus/choral dance and the early Christian prayer circle.) Here is a
passage from Clement’s Exhortation, available at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (ccel.org):
Come, O madman, not leaning on the thyrsus, not crowned with ivy; throw away the mitre, throw away the fawn-skin; come to thy senses. I will show thee the Word, and the mysteries of the Word, expounding them after thine own fashion. This is the mountain beloved of God, not the subject of tragedies like Cithæron, but consecrated to dramas of the truth,–a mount of sobriety, shaded with forests of purity; and there revel on it not the Mænades, the sisters of Semele, who was struck by the thunderbolt, practising in their initiatory rites unholy division of flesh, but the daughters of God, the fair lambs, who celebrate the holy rites of the Word, raising a sober choral dance. The righteous are the chorus; the music is a hymn of the King of the universe. The maidens strike the lyre, the angels praise, the prophets speak; the sound of music issues forth, they run and pursue the jubilant band; those that are called make haste, eagerly desiring to receive the Father.
Come thou also, O aged man, leaving Thebes, and casting away from thee both divination and Bacchic frenzy, allow thyself to be led to the truth. I give thee the staff [of the cross] on which to lean. Haste, Tiresias; believe, and thou wilt see. Christ, by whom the eyes of the blind recover sight, will shed on thee a light brighter than the sun; night will flee from thee, fire will fear, death will be gone; thou, old man, who saw not Thebes, shalt see the heavens. O truly sacred mysteries! O stainless light! My way is lighted with torches, and I survey the heavens and God; I become holy whilst I am initiated. The Lord is the hierophant [that which brings someone into the presence of the holy, like the keeper of the gate in 2 Nephi 9], and seals while illuminating him who is initiated, and presents to the Father him who believes, to be kept safe for ever. Such are the reveries of my mysteries. If it is thy wish, be thou also initiated; and thou shall join the choir along with angels around the unbegotten and indestructible and the only true God, the Word of God, raising the hymn with us. This Jesus, who is eternal, the one great High Priest of the one God, and of His Father, prays for and exhorts men.
“Hear, ye myriad tribes, rather whoever among men are endowed with reason, both barbarians and Greeks. I call on the whole race of men, whose Creator I am, by the will of the Father. Come to Me, that you may be put in your due rank under the one God and the one Word of God; and do not only have the advantage of the irrational creatures in the possession of reason; for to you of all mortals I grant the enjoyment of immortality. For I want, I want to impart to you this grace, bestowing on you the perfect boon of immortality; and I confer on you both the Word and the knowledge of God, My complete self. This am I, this God wills, this is symphony, this the harmony of the Father, this is the Son, this is Christ, this the Word of God, the arm of the Lord, the power of the universe, the will of the Father; of which things there were images of old, but not all adequate. I desire to restore you according to the original model, that ye may become also like Me. I anoint you with the ungent of faith, by which you throw off corruption, and show you the naked form of righteousness by which you ascend to God. Come to Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest to your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden light.”
Let us haste, let us run, my fellow-men—us, who are God-loving and God-like images of the Word. Let us haste, let us run, let us take His yoke, let us receive, to conduct us to immortality, the good charioteer of men. Let us love Christ. He led the colt with its parent; and having yoked the team of humanity to God, directs His chariot to immortality, hastening clearly to fulfil, by driving now into heaven, what He shadowed forth before by riding into Jerusalem. A spectacle most beautiful to the Father is the eternal Son crowned with victory. Let us aspire, then, after what is good; let us become God-loving men, and obtain the greatest of all things which are incapable of being harmed—God and life. Our helper is the Word; let us put confidence in Him; … There is therefore no room to doubt, the Word will say, whether it is better to be sane or insane; but holding on to truth with our teeth, we must with all our might follow God, and in the exercise of wisdom regard all things to be, as they are, His; and besides, having learned that we are the most excellent of His possessions, let us commit ourselves to God, loving the Lord God, and regarding this as our business all our life long. And if what belongs to friends be reckoned common property, and man be the friend of God—for through the mediation of the Word has he been made the friend of God—then accordingly all things become man’s, because all things are God’s, and the common property of both the friends, God and man.
It is time, then, for us to say that the pious Christian alone is rich and wise, and of noble birth, and thus call and believe him to be God’s image, and also His likeness, having become righteous and holy and wise by Jesus Christ, and so far already like God. Accordingly this grace is indicated by the prophet, when he says, “I said that ye are gods, and all sons of the Highest.” For us, yea us, He has adopted, and wishes to be called the Father of us alone, not of the unbelieving. Such is then our position who are the attendants of Christ.
There is much in Clement that resonates with LDS concepts. Many things to discuss later.
In LDS doctrine, the divine potential of mankind is linked to out divine heritage. We don’t think Paul was obfuscating when he approved of the Greek poet who wrote, “We are also his offspring” (Acts 17:28). We take him seriously when he said God is our Father, even the “Father of Spirits” (Heb. 12:9-10). And we see a link between our heritage as children of God and our divine potential in what Paul taught in Romans 8:
14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
But some have argued that since Paul speaks of adoption, it means that we aren’t actual, literal children of God, but rather that we are an entirely different species. Only Christ is “begotten” or descended from God, and the rest of us are entirely distinct and in need of being adopted. [Here I delete my errant discussion based on misreading an unclear part of the text, where I thought it said “was adopted” instead of “has adopted.” Oops!]
But perhaps Clement of Alexandria helps us overcome that barrier to recognizing our divine inheritance, for he teaches in the last paragraph quoted above that Christ in His role as Son of God also was “adopted.” Adopted for us to bring us back to God.
My guess is that the concept of adoption in this context means putting off the natural man and fully accepting God, thus being accepted of God, that we may enter into God’s presence in a covenant relationship to receive His kingdom and all that He has. We are sons and daughters of God, with the potential to become true Sons and Daughters of God in His kingdom, joint heirs with Christ. Heavy material, certainly, but worth thinking about.
I’d like to know more about the mysteries that Clement knew.